Thursday, June 9, 2011

Syria's Dictator Assad's Regime of Torture

Assad's Regime of Torture

Dictator Assad reaffirms his father's legacy of death by quelling dissent with brute force


Ali, an Allawite, the sect from which the Assad family and much of the ruling elite hail, was captured by secret police during a small protest in Mezze, a suburb of Damascus.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Ali said the beating began as soon as he was on the bus to prison. "You are Alawite and you don't like Bashar?" the police officer screamed at him. "Are you with the Salafis and the Muslim Brotherhood?"

The fist landed square in his face as Ali tried to explain that the protesters were not fundamentalist Salafi Muslims. Ali was taken to the notorious Air Force security branch in Bab Touma, a stone throw away from the Old City where tourists were enjoying the sights.

The interrogator had footage from the protest filmed on a phone, showing Ali chanting for freedom. "He got up and walked behind me, grabbed my hair and slammed my face into the table. He was really angry."

Ali's hands were tied behind his back while he was punched in the face repeatedly. "He told me to confess I was there, and who had organized it, and was it someone from outside Syria?"

Blindfolded, Ali was driven to another prison, where, still unable to see, he was beaten, pushed down stairs and had cigarettes stubbed out on his back. Again the interrogator wanted to know if he was allied with Islamist groups, this time Hezb ut-Tahrir.

By contrast, Abu Mohammed's interrogators appeared less certain who to blame for the uprising they were struggling to contain.

Arrested from his Damascus home in late March, the journalist was taken, along with his laptop and mobile phone, to a branch of Internal Security on Baghdad Street.

The cell was already filled with protesters rounded up that day.

"We were hundreds so it was hard for interrogators to deal with us. They are used to tens being arrested at a time, not hundreds," he said.

For the next sixteen days Abu Mohammed followed the same routine: Dragged into an interrogation room and punched in the face.

"The interrogators were simple and uneducated men, they just shouted at me and hit me if I disagreed. They didn't know what they wanted."

The journalist was asked for his email address. "He asked me what ‘Hotmail' means. I answered in a simple and direct way. The main thing I realised was to answer what they wanted to hear, not what I thought."

His father's footsteps

The uprising in Syria began with the
torture of children: 15 boys, aged between 10 and 15, from Deraa, who were beaten and had their finger nails pulled out by men working for General Atef Najeeb, a cousin of President Assad.

Two months into the most serious threat to the decades-old dictatorship, the jails in some cities are already full. As well as holding prisoners in the power station in Banias, security forces have also begun using a local sports stadium to hold hundreds of detainees, according to eyewitness accounts gathered by activists.

The release of all political prisoners has become a unifying cry among protesters across the country, who began by calling merely for reform and an end to corruption and who now demand the toppling of the president and his regime.

Like the father from whom he inherited power, President Assad has sought to crush the uprising against him with force and mass arrests.

During a campaign of repression against the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood in the 1980s under late President Hafez al-Assad, some 17,000 Syrians disappeared, according to testimony to the United Nations Human Rights Council by Radwan Ziadeh, head of the Damascus Centre for Human Rights Studies.

And in a chilling parallel to the actions of his father, who responded to the Muslim Brotherhood uprising by sending tanks and ultra-loyal troops commanded by his brother to raze Hama, killing between 10,000 and 30,000 civilians, President Assad has laid siege to Deraa, Homs and Banias with tanks and troops commanded by his brother, Maher al-Assad.

Today, in two months of protests, Syrian security forces have killed an estimated 850 people.

On Wednesday, Syria dropped its bid to join the UN Human Rights Council, which has ordered a fact-finding mission to Syria to investigate human rights abuses.

After eight days in a windowless two by two meter dungeon deep underground, Ali was freed without charges. His wallet, with half the money stolen, was returned, but he was too weak to drive home so took a taxi to a friend's place, too ashamed to let his parents see.

"The worst is you don't know what will happen. You and your family have no idea what is going on," said Ali who, despite his experience, remains unbowed.

"I have seen personally the real ugly face of security, and it is much uglier than I thought. I will protest again because now I really realize what freedom means. If we give up now we will all be arrested again anyway."

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UK and France seek UN action on Syrian Dictator Assad

UK and France seek UN action on Syria as thousands flee

Troops and tanks mass outside 'ghost town' after massacre amid mounting fears of slip towards Libyan-style

 Ian Black and Nidaa Hassan

Thousands of residents have fled the northern Syrian town of Jisr al-Shughour in fear of an imminent onslaught by government troops ordered to take vengeance on one of the centres of the uprising against President Bashar al-Assad.

Anticipation of a violent response by the regime galvanised international diplomatic action, led by France and Britain at the UN, and fuelled a sense that a turning point may be approaching as disorder spreads and Syria slips closer to a Libyan-style civil war.

The local co-ordinating committees, a network of activist groups, reported that 40 tanks and 50 troop carriers were 2½ miles (4km) from Jisr al-Shughour, and soldiers were in Idleb, the provincial capital. Amateur video also showed armoured units moving into the area.

An independent activist in Damascus said that he had seen tanks leaving the capital. The forces are thought to be under the command of the president's brother, Maher, who commands the Republican Guard and other units, and is widely believed to be the man leading Syria's violent crackdown.

"We believe they may send the 4th Division to attack, as they can be relied on to be loyal," said an activist who runs a Facebook page on the protests. "The conscripts, people like me, can't be relied upon when asked to be so brutal."

Although more than 1,110 Syrians have reportedly been killed in nearly three months of unprecedented unrest, it is clear the crackdown has failed to crush the opposition – even without the sort of high-level defections suffered by Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader.

Video clips showed Jisr al-Shughour deserted, nothing moving in the streets, and the market shuttered. Residents described it as a ghost town as people streamed towards the border with Turkey, which the government in Ankara said would remain open. "We are monitoring developments in Syria with concern," said Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. "Syria should change its attitude towards civilians and should take its attitude to a more tolerant level." The Turkish news agency said about 170 Syrians had crossed the border, and some wounded had been taken to local hospitals.

The government in Damascus claims 120 troops and security personnel were killed in an ambush in Jisr al-Shughour on Sunday, but there is no independent confirmation of this, as no foreign journalists are allowed to operate in Syria.

Speculation is rife that the incident may have been a mutiny by some security forces who refused to fire on protesters, and were themselves killed by loyalists. Syrian state TV reported that "armed terrorist organisations" used government vehicles and uniforms to commit "a brutal massacre". They "filmed themselves … to manipulate the photos and videos and distort the reputation of the army," according to Syrian state TV. It showed pictures from the funerals of eight security personnel.

Syria Comment, an influential blog based in the US, said: "Syria is slipping towards civil war. The government has met with no success in quelling the revolt despite an escalating death rate and an ever more ruthless crackdown."

At the UN, European nations seeking to increase pressure on Assad's regime presented a revised resolution condemning Syria for its deadly crackdown on peaceful protesters. Britain, France, Germany and Portugal introduced the text at a closed Security Council meeting. UN diplomats said the new draft, which has strong US backing, is aimed at winning more support for the resolution in the council and avoiding a Russian veto.

"We will be on the right side of history if and when this comes to a vote," said Susan Rice, US ambassador to the UN. "If others are unable to, or unwilling to, then that will be their responsibility to bear."

Russia's UN ambassador Vitaly Churkin reiterated that Moscow would not support the resolution, on the grounds that it would not promote dialogue. But he declined to say if Russia would veto it.

"If anyone votes against that resolution or tries to veto it, that should be on their conscience," David Cameron told MPs in London.

Diplomats admit privately that they are far less able to influence Syria than Libya, and that there is no prospect of military action against the Assad regime.

In Paris the Syrian ambassador was forced to deny she had resigned in protest at attacks on civilians. Lamia Shakkour claimed she was the victim of a hoax to embarrass her country. She called the announcement "misinformation" and "identity theft".

A woman identifying herself as the ambassador announced her resignation by phone on the TV news channel France 24 on Tuesday. "I can no longer continue to support the cycle of extreme violence against unarmed civilians," she said. "I recognise the legitimacy of the people's demands for more democracy and freedom."

France 24 said it had called a phone number on which it had spoken to Shakkour previously. After the broadcast Reuters said it had received an email that came via the Syrian embassy website in Paris, confirming the resignation. But this step was immediately denied by news agencies in Syria.

Shakkour appeared on another French television station, BFM TV, to deny she had resigned. France 24 said it did not rule out a "manipulation or a provocation" and promised to investigate the alleged hoax.

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